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From Issue Spot: Proposed Court Budget an Opportunity to Bring the Delivery of Justice into 21st Century

Monday, February 25, 2013

Massachusetts deserves a modern and efficient court system that provides justice in a fair and timely manner.  Unfortunately, we currently have an antiquated court system that impedes the delivery of justice.

Enter Harry Spence, the civilian Court Administrator appointed last April to bring a practical approach to the management of the Massachusetts State Courts. In 2013 the realities dictate that our court system be understood not just by lawyers, but by the public too.

No doubt we are still facing challenging economic times in Massachusetts.  But there will never be a time without tough choices to be made, and it’s time to turn the court’s challenges into opportunities for major improvement.  

At this week’s meeting of the Administration of Justice Steering Committee, Court Administrator Harry Spence detailed the Trial Court’s budget request for the upcoming fiscal year.  In addition to the Trial Court’s maintenance request of $589 million for the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, the Trial Court has presented the Legislature with a series of 6 modules, that if adopted and implemented, will most certainly modernize our justice system. 

Here’s a look at the 6 modules the Trial Court is proposing to the Legislature for consideration:

  • Module 1 – provides for an increase in judicial salaries.  Read more about judicial compensation in Massachusetts in Issue Spot.
  • Module 2 – restores public hours and brings all clerk and registers’ offices up to full time operation.  This would require backfilling 31 positions.  A list of the Courts that currently have reduced hours can be found here.
  • Module 3 – provides for more video conferencing.  Video conferencing is already commonplace in business and it should be in our court system.  This will save the Trial Court both transportation costs and time.
  • Module 4 – enhances security — including backfilling court officer jobs.  New equipment including metal detectors and x-ray machine. Sally portsfor secure prisoner transport would also be purchased.   The safety of all users of the court needs to be taken seriously.
  • Module 5 – provides for much needed technology and telecommunications enhancements.  This will reduce costs and increase efficiency and includes system upgrades and a pilot program to create a central call center at the Boston Municipal Court which is estimated to reduce calls to Clerks’ Offices by 75%.
  • Module 6 – adds 20 additional Drug Courts statewide.  It has been proven that drug courts, when operated pursuant to recommended standards, reduce recidivism.

Court Administrator Harry Spence talked about other modernization initiatives that are already underway including an Extended Court Hours Pilot set to begin on February 26th.  There is an e-filing pilot beginning this spring.   The courts are also adding enhancements like e-filing technology, electronic case management, intelligent document and data capture and even secure mobile access.  The Court’s Strategic Plan is on schedule to be complete by June 30th.  Court Service Centers at three to four locations are to begin by July 1st as a pilot program.

The Trial Court’s maintenance budget request, as well as the series of modules, needs to be looked at as an investment in the future of our state courts.  Good and sound investments in our justice system will be felt overwhelmingly by the individuals and businesses whose use our courts every day.   

 

- Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association

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